Floral Notes and Bardo: Truly… Hug Trees

By Travis Newbill

Floral Notes and Bardo: The Creative Chronicles of a Shambhala Mountain Resident is a daily feature on the SMC blog in which a member of our staff/community shares his experience of existing as part of Shambhala Mountain Center.

(Notes from the Four Seasons Program: Exploring Trees and Wildflowers)

I hung out with plants all weekend.

10517504_759949517404968_5577312332589050759_nPhoto by Jim Tolstrup

And Jim

In the meadows and wetlands
On the northern and southern slopes
Beneath my feet
around my house

Dating back ages…

A whole world of vibrant, fluid life in the form of plants:
ancient trees
wildflowers, brief

I met a lot
learned their names, and a bit about them
New friends!
All over the place!

There is one version of the world on the TV news
There is another version of the world in the forest, meadows, wetlands
on the southern and northern slopes

This experience is always available:
Lay on my back, face towards the sun
pretend to be a flower

The wood laying around on the ground is old:
Maybe several hundred years

The oldest living tree on the land is over 700 years old
It is vibrating with wisdom

The world of human drama is one world

~~~

I live with humans, plants, rocks, animals, wind, water…

– July 21, 2014

~~~

PortraitTravis Newbill is a curious dude on the path of artistry, meditation, and social engagement who is very glad to be residing at Shambhala Mountain Center.  His roles within the organization include Marketing Associate and Head Dekyong–a position of leadership within the community.  Follow Travis on twitter: @travisnewbill

The Willow is a Wonderful Host

By Richard Swaback

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The green-red fruit-like looking structure on this willow (Salix spp.),located on the edge of Lake Sunyata, is a gall (abnormal outgrowth of plant tissue) produced in concert with the sawfly (Pontania s-pomum).

In the spring a female inserts and egg that induces galling into leaf tissue. The leaf produces a gall which is bean-shaped, smooth and emerges equally on both sides of the leaf. the gall may be green, red or yellow. A single larva feeds in the cavity of each gall. (Nyman et al 2000: 526-533)

Above the sawfly gall is a cabbage-like looking structure…yes that is also a gall…produced by the Willow Cabbage Gall Midge (Rabdophaga salicisbrassicoides).

“I mean really…”

“Learning is any change in a system that produces a more or less permanent change in its capacity for adapting to its environment.”  –  Herbert A. Simon

Wake up to the Wild (the Wildly Good!)

By Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson will be leading Mindful Hiking: Waking Up to the Wild, July 31–August 3; and Waking Up to the Wild: Nature Walks, September 12–14.

As this spring unfolds, I’m struck by the environmental and social changes happening world-wide.  It feels like each of us is being called to search deep inside and decide how we’re going to take better care of ourselves, each other, and the earth.

The combination of mindfulness-awareness practice with time in nature is the proverbial one-two punch for our health and well-being as well as for our ability to live in harmony with each other and the planet.  Nature provides valuable lessons for how we can live our lives in healthy balance if we pay attention to them.  When we synchronize our bodies and mind in nature with mindfulness practices, we develop a deeper understanding of that balance.  We can train ourselves to continue to open to a bigger perspective and that state of openness, vitality, and potential that exists within all of us.

We’re making technological advancements faster than we can imagine, yet getting through the day seems to be becoming more and more of a struggle.  As a culture, it seems that we’ve come to a phase where we’re often engaging in activity for the sake of activity.  Many of us are working most all the time and find ourselves engaged in frenetic activity like it’s somehow necessary to legitimize our existence.  In many office environments it’s a competition to see who’s the last one to leave at the end of the day.  Suddenly we’re working 12-14 hour days with little to no mandated vacation and we wonder why we’re so stressed-out.  We’ve forgotten how to simply live.

SMC The Land O'Hern - Print7Photo by Karen O’Hern

We all possess a basic goodness.  It’s not something that we have to get from outside ourselves or that is only achievable once we’ve worked a certain number of hours or demonstrated a certain skill or attribute.  It’s who we already are – basically (or unconditionally) good.  When we shift our perspective from a focus on problems to seeing the solutions that already exist, we come to trust that basic goodness in ourselves, each other, and our society.  Then we naturally know how to take the best care of ourselves and when, where, and how to best lend a helping hand.

From time to time in my busy urban life, I come to a place where I feel a general dis-ease.  I can’t quite put my finger on a particular reason why and I’m confused about what to do.  I’m in the habit of looking for problems in my environment and not noticing what’s right in my life.  I feel kind of  “off” and I know I’m not alone.  We have become what John Muir described as “tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people.”  The good news is that our “medicine” is waiting for us in nature.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto by Greg Smith

Psychological research in recent decades suggests that spending time in nature improves cognition, relieves anxiety and depression, and even boosts empathy.  It certainly helps, but it’s actually not enough to just exercise outside.  Many of us go out with an iPod or phone attached to our arm or spend most of our time there rehashing the day at work and/or strategies for the future of a budding romance or how to get our kids to clean their room.  Like me, have you ever planned a wonderful hike and spent days looking forward to it’s reality only to find yourself a mile down the trail before you finally realize where you are?  This is where mindfulness meditation helps us to strengthen our ability to fully be where we are, to actually fully inhabit our bodies, and to let our senses wake us up and our hearts soften.

We can make it part of our essential routine to disconnect from the screens and the “treadmill” of our daily lives and venture into the wild.  Even for me here in the heart of Oakland, that doesn’t take more than a 15-minute bike ride into a park in the hills to really feel the fresh air and sunshine on my face.  I can simply let myself be and in doing so remind myself that I am enough as is.  It really is that simple.  Coming together to practice “waking up in the wild” as a group is an excellent way to affirm this commitment to our basic well-being and to create positive change for our collective future.

Join me this summer for another opportunity to wake up to the wild (the wildly good!) both outside and in.  Bring a family member or friend.  Let’s slow down, step outside, look up, let go of the push to be somewhere other than where we are, and appreciate the richness that’s already here.

Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson will be leading Mindful Hiking: Waking Up to the Wild, July 31–August 3; and Waking Up to the Wild: Nature Walks, September 12–14.  To learn more and to register, please click here and here.

Interview: Waking Up to the Wild with Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson will be leading Mindful Hiking: Waking Up to the Wild, July 31-August 3; and Waking Up to the Wild: Nature Walks, September 12-14

Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson

Like trees in the forest or fish in the sea, we have an innate ability to live in greater harmony with our environment. While trying to navigate our busy, high-tech world, we can develop habits of mind that leave us feeling disconnected and unfulfilled. Delving deeply into the practice of mindfulness/awareness in nature, we turn our attention toward the subtle interplay of our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and sense perceptions and rediscover how we can open to our fundamental interconnection to all things. Rather than always needing to change where we work, live, or who we love, we can change our relationship to these aspects of our lives in a way that brings us greater happiness and contentment.

Later this summer, psychotherapist, wilderness guide, and Shambhala meditation instructor Kay Peterson will be leading two nourishing retreats–one hiking and the other walking (lower impact)– here in the powerful natural environment of Shambhala Mountain Center.  Recently, Kay took some time to discuss the importance of tapping into the natural world, and how doing so can benefit our daily lives.

Enjoy this interview below, and to learn more about the upcoming retreat, please click here.

Spring at 8,000 Feet

by Jared Leveille

Jared Leveille is the Land Steward of Shambhala Mountain Center.  

Photo by Greg Smith

The invigorating quality of spring is making itself evident throughout the land. Bright green grasses and many-hued wildflowers are breaking through last year’s decay, birds are calling for the rising sun, and the creeks are full with the rush476102_10150631565777304_1792262271_o (1) of snowmelt. We all feel the season brimming with possibility and renewal. I heard the first rumble of thunder a moment ago, off a ways, and listen as it reverberates across the valley– speaking a promise of rain, which is so precious in this arid climate. There is a tingling in my skin as I breathe the crisp air in the fading light.

My first few land crew volunteers have arrived, and I love experiencing our mountain valley anew through their fresh eyes. We have a lot of projects to work on, but know how precious it is to have the opportunity to really get our hands dirty– to touch the earth.

PasqualFlowersI encourage you to visit the land stewardship’s new Facebook page – Shambhala Mountain- Friends of the Land. With it, I’ll try to keep everyone up to speed on things I’m working on, share some of the beauty I come across during my days, post a daily picture of the land, and perhaps, at times, ask for support and help with particular projects. It is not possible for a single person to properly steward the land. Expanding awareness can help us all play a part in the protection of this fragile environment. We can foster a deeper sense of community through recognizing we are not separate from the spring’s emergence, from the urgency of change–and that the earth is indeed a part of us.

Some springtime inspired listening…

 

Top photo by Greg Smith

Bottom photo by Paul Bennett

Rediscovering the Place of Nature

By Martin Ogle

Martin Ogle recently lead  the weekend program”Engaging the Rhythms of our Living Earth” and is one of the main organizers of the Four Seasons Program.

Martin Ogle

Martin Ogle

The weekend retreat, “Engaging the Rhythms of our Living Earth,” was a delightful experience for me.  It not only provided the opportunity to share ideas of profound interest to me, but also to learn from the perspectives of a marvelous group of participants and from the land and history of Shambhala Mountain Center:  A long-time Shambalian and genetics professor offered insights into the synergy of science and spirituality.  Artists and poets shared moving reflections on the beauty and mystery of the land.  And, the symbolism of the Great Stupa blended seamlessly with our inquiry into how our human lives can be in synchronicity or discord with the rhythms of nature.  I believe these insights – and the retreat’s purpose of re-discovering the pace of Nature in scientific, spiritual and mindful ways – set a marvelous foundation for SMC’s Four Seasons Program.

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Photo by Greg Smith

The name,”Four Seasons Program,” itself, provides powerful links between exploring and celebrating the land of SMC and the ongoing inquiry into the nature of the human mind.  The circle and four directions motif, found in the Buddhist Mandala (and Stupa), is a universal symbol that reflects our human relationship to Earth and the Universe.  The labrynths of the British Isles, the Hopi Earth Mother symbol and Zia Sun Symbol are other examples.  There is a real need for the traditional lessons of basic goodness and mindfulness that SMC has provided for decades.  Couched in the context of our human relationship to our living planet, these lessons take on even greater significance. ​

To learn more about the Four Seasons Program and view some upcoming retreats in this series, please click here.

Deepening Our Connection: SMC’s Land Steward on the Four Seasons Program

By Jared Leveille

Jared Leveille is the Land Steward of Shambhala Mountain Center.  

Jared Leveille

Jared Leveille

2014 is an exciting year for environmentally based programming, and it got off to a great start in March with Martin Ogle‘s program “Gaia: Engaging the Rhythms of our Living Earth“.  As a participant of the weekend, I was thrilled to help engage the group in closer observation of the land as we explored storytelling, solo observation points in nature, art, symbology and journaling.  The Gaia Theory- which describes the earth as a single living system depending upon a myriad of contributory relationships, interactions and processes shares an interesting common thread with a major tenet of Buddhist philosophy- interdependence- which surmises that all phenomena, human life included, exists in mutual dependence upon one another.  Among the group were scientists, educators, environmentalists and nature lovers and each one of us had something important and relevant to share over the weekend, which seemed to support the ideas we were delving into.

Exploring Trees and Wildflowers‘, our next program in the Four Seasons series, will be held in June and will be hosted by a trio of teachers who each have a unique and profound connection to the natural world.  This program will have more of a bioregional flair, and we will be examining plant communities that flourish here on our 700 acre property, as well as learning about some of their cultural and historical uses.

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Photo by Greg Smith

In developing a series of environmental programs here at Shambhala Mountain Center, we hope to rekindle a sense of respect and reverence for the earth, as well as renew the delight and freshness we feel when we can deepen our connection and understanding.  When I am out on the land, everything I encounter, whether it be a newly emerged wildflower, a rushing creek, or a dead pine tree, is a teaching.  Before we can help our world, first we all must find ways to develop a more profound relationship, a kinship, with the natural environment.  Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche joyfully reminds us – “Look.  This is your world!  You can’t not look.  There is no other world.  This is your world; it is your feast.  You inherited this; you inherited these eyeballs; you inherited this world of color.  Look at the greatness of the whole thing.  Look!  Don’t hesitate – look!  Open your eyes.  Don’t blink, and look, look – look further.”

To learn more about the SMC land, and keep up with what the natural world is up to, follow Jared’s Friends of the Land page on Facebook. 

Engaging the Rhythms of Our Living Earth Part 2

By Martin Ogle

Martin-Ogle-La-Plata-PeakMartin Ogle will be leading Gaia: Engaging the Rhythms of Our Living Earth, March 21-23

In the previous blog post, I briefly introduced the scientific view of Earth as a living system. In the quest to Engage the Rhythms of our Living Planet, let us expand our exploration . . .

When James Lovelock returned to England from working with NASA, a friend and neighbor was none other than William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies. Upon hearing Lovelock’s ruminations of a living planet, Golding urged his friend to name the idea “Gaia,” after the Greek Goddess of Earth. He felt this would honor the fact that Western science was rediscovering what ancient Western Culture held sensed mythically: that Earth is alive and that we are a part of her life. The mythical connection reminded us, that the human mind has, indeed, co-evolved seamlessly with a living Earth.

When, in the distant past, ancestral humans crossed a threshold of mental development to acquire self-awareness and awareness of time similar to that of modern humans, they must have been terrified! The awareness that they were going to die and the plaguing wonderment of why they were alive were surely the origin of what we now call “religion.” Our present-day religions, mythologies and stories surely echo and mirror our ancestors’ original explanations of these matters!

Since that ancestral time, the sudden breadth of our awareness has produced a tendency to mentally speed up and “get ahead of ourselves” unlike anywhere else in nature. Although our minds are natural emanations of Earth, the level and kind of our awareness of self and time are fundamentally unique. The discrepancy between the pace of nature and the pace and of the human mind is the source of much of our unhappiness and discontent. And, whereas non-human nature is purposeless, the human mind is often the hostage of purpose and meaning.

This is not to say that purpose and meaning are bad things (nor, could they be, for they are just part of our human nature). As a biological adaptation, a sense of purpose is a marvelous thing – it allows us to foresee and prepare for circumstances in the future that would otherwise harm us or even do us in. Thus, the question is not whether our awareness is inherently good or bad, but whether it goes too far. Knowing the human mind as emerging from a living, evolving planet allows us to consciously re-link with its rhythms allowing a harmony between our intellect and senses.

In his book From Eros to Gaia (1988) Princeton physicist, Freeman Dyson, intoned that “One hopeful sign of sanity in modern society is the popularity of the idea of Gaia, invented by James Lovelock to personify our living planet.” He believed that “As humanity moves into the future and takes control of its evolution, our first priority must be to preserve our emotional bond to Gaia.” In a 1994 speech The New Measure of Man, Former Czech President, Vaclav Havel cited the Gaia Hypothesis as one of the biggest reasons for this hope because it both confirmed and was anticipated by the myths, stories and religions of peoples around the world that saw human life as “anchored in the Earth and the universe.”

These words, and those of many other recognized figures from around the world, help create a reasoned premise that linking our intellect and our senses in a single “Gaian context”planet is a healthy and enjoyable way to be present in this world. I look forward to joining with you and others in March to explore this new territory through story, science, contemplation, art, and walks through the beauty of Shambhala Mountain Center.

~~~

Be sure to listen our recent interview with Martin Ogle, available to stream and download HERE

Martin Ogle will be leading Gaia: Engaging the Rhythms of Our Living Earth, March 21-23. To learn more, CLICK HERE

Engaging the Rhythms of our Living Earth Part 1

By Martin Ogle

Martin Ogle will be leading Gaia: Engaging the Rhythms of Our Living Earth, March 21-23

Martin-Ogle-La-Plata-PeakIn essence, this upcoming retreat will explore how our human mind perceives and fits in with where it came from! If we accept that our physical bodies evolved from this planet, it is a short leap to understanding our minds as originating from the same source. We are the conscious awareness of Earth! In this, the first-of-two blog posts, I introduce the scientific idea of Earth as a living system, setting the foundation for a second installment that will more fully tie our human awareness to rhythms of our planet.

In the 1960s, NASA wanted to know if there was life on Mars, yet a Mars mission was still decades away. The agency hired James Lovelock, a British chemist, doctor and inventor to look into it. Lovelock decided on a simple test, one that could be done from Earth. Studying Mars with a spectrophotometer, he observed that it had an inert atmosphere (one in which “nothing was happening”), and concluded that Mars was lifeless.

Mulling over his research, however, Lovelock realized that the nature of his atmospheric test had more to say about a planet as a whole than about the presence or absence of living organisms. Although he found the Martian atmosphere to be inert, Lovelock knew Earth’s atmosphere was wildly active – alive! This suggested to Lovelock that Earth is not just a planet with life on it, but is a single, living system. He was soon joined by American microbiologist, Lynn Margulis who saw that early evolution of microorganisms – and all subsequent evolution – involved both natural selection and symbiosis that resulted in a living system.

Lovelock, Margulis and colleagues amassed research that showed organic and inorganic parts and processes of Earth were tightly coupled as a living system that has greatly moderated global temperature, atmospheric content, ocean salinity, and other factors. The maintenance of oxygen at around 20% of the atmosphere and ocean salinity at about 35 parts per thousand over millions of years are examples. To find out more about this science, visit GaiaTheory.org.

Although all signs point to our being part of a living planet, our modern cultural stories do not reflect this. Our language and actions suggest that we consider ourselves separate from the rest of nature, and that nature, itself, operates like a machine rather than a living being. The disparity between these underlying cultural stories and what our senses tell us creates great confusion. Our minds go off on tangents that are not reflective of or compatible with the way that life works. In the next installment, I will propose that Engaging the Rhythms of our Living Earth involves re-linking our intellectual and sensual perceptions of our living planet.

Be sure to listen our recent interview with Martin Ogle, available to stream and download HERE

Martin Ogle will be leading Gaia: Engaging the Rhythms of Our Living Earth, March 21-23. To learn more, CLICK HERE

Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Couple

by Keith Kachtick
relationshipsIn Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke makes clear that a loving, romantic relationship is the practice for which all other mindfulness practices are the groundwork. “Love is high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become world for himself for another’s sake.” The ancient Tibetan tantric practice of Yab-Yum recognizes that romantic coupling is as an opportunity for profound spiritual awakening, a practice that invites us—deeply challenges us—to love our way to enlightenment.

Traditionally, in Buddhist thangkas and sculptures depicting Yab-Yum, the confluence of “masculine” compassion and “feminine” wisdom is presented metaphorically in the sexual union of a male deity, seated in Padmasana (lotus pose), with his female consort facing him on his lap. The symbolism is two-fold: Yab-Yum (literally “father-mother” in Tibetan) implies a mystical union within our own individual nature—the two Dharma wings that lift each of us to buddhahood; united, the two awakened beings (regardless of gender) then give birth to a romantic communion embodying the blissful, non-dual state of enlightenment.

Much easier said than done, of course. But for anyone in a committed relationship, the Yab-Yum ideal of unconditional love—borne out of opening our hearts and fine-tuning our communication skills, as well as deepening our understanding of our partner’s needs and desires—is an opportunity and wonderful challenge to recognize and celebrate the highest in ourselves and in each other.

Ultimately, it’s all about soulful harmonizing. “We know little, but that we must hold to what is difficult is a certainty that will not forsake us,” Rilke reminds us. “It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult. That something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it. To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. This more human love resembles that which we have prepared for with struggle and toil all our lives: a love that consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute one another.”

Keith Kachtick and his partner Camilla Figueroa will be teaching the retreat Loving Your Way to Enlightenment: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Couple September 13-15